We devour books like Spark Joy and The Magical Art of Tidying Up because they teach us how to groom our homes and keep them free from clutter. Yet we want much more than a spanking clean closet and a living room that’s easy on the eyes. We hunger for a rich and sensuous rapport—an ongoing love affair with home that makes us want to hunker down and never leave it. I’m talking about the eros of the house. The sweet comfort of your belongings. The joy of creating a warm and welcoming space. The whimsy of dancing with a broom or mop. How can we get in touch with this?
Over the years, I’ve lived in a variety of homes, from a Manhattan apartment to a white-washed bungalow on a Greek island, from a colonial farmhouse in the Hudson Valley to a magical cottage in the California redwoods. I’ve learned how to put a home together quickly, unpacking the kitchen and putting pictures on the walls within two days. Not to satisfy some crazy notion of perfection but because home is as essential to me as life and breath. Think back to the homemaking rituals of your grandmother’s era. The white sheets flapping in the wind, a well-dressed table, the gleam of the tile floors, the golden fruit from the orchard in well-stacked Mason jars. A time when the words earth, hearth, and heart were as one. This what so many of us, with our crowded lives and cramped schedules, have forgotten: If we care for the house faithfully, in return it cares for us.
Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting we turn back the clock. No need to beat the rugs, scour the oven with steel wool, or do the laundry by hand. But we can be more mindful of how we approach the home. So how can we make tending it a wonderfully sensuous, even spiritual, practice?
Housework as Poetry
The answer is in the quality of our attention. If we approach our daily asks with deliberation, this changes everything. These are no more “chores” only opportunities for eros and enlightenment. With the right attitude, we can find grace and beauty while polishing the furniture, washing the windows, and tidying the living room. We might also discover something really radical: that housekeeping has a rhythm of its own. Like a chant, or a form of lyric poetry. If you mop a floor until it glistens like the surface of a lake, or oil a wooden table, working the amber liquid into the grain in slow deliberate strokes, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke enjoyed donning his maid’s suede gloves and dusting the furniture in the wee hours of the morning. Touching all the swirls and crevices on a hand-carved table was, he felt, an extraordinary act of intimacy. Like caressing the body of a lover. “After this,” he said, “there’s nothing that you do not know!”
Yes, housekeeping can be annoying when you’re on overwhelm. Yet if you stop and approach it mindfully, it can also be a source of revelation. An initiation into the secret lives of your possessions. A playful, intimate exchange that can buoy your spirits.
If you dread doing the laundry or putting away the dishes, here’s one prescription. Acknowledge your home and thank it for contributing to your self-renewal, your creativity, and your close relationships. Treat it like a living, breathing organism. And see what happens next.